Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday evening in the West Hollywood Park gymnasium for the start of the inaugural season of WeHo Dodgeball.
League founder and West Hollywood resident Jake Mason received a proclamation from Councilman John D'Amico during the season opener for his role in making the city's official league a reality.
Patch caught up with Mason to talk about WeHo Dodgeball, what the league has in store for players, how it's partnering with local businesses and ways it's supporting various charities.
West Hollywood Patch: How did you first get involved in dodgeball?
Jake Mason: I worked for the World Dodgeball Society (WDS) and managed its Poinsettia league. I knew then that there would be a huge demand for dodgeball in West Hollywood, so I went out and built a league. I scoured the streets and put up fliers in every bar and every restaurant. I talked to everyone I could, worked with the gym, got the space.
It was 2010 when the West Hollywood dodgeball league with WDS started. It ran for six seasons. The second season for WDS went from eight teams of 20 to 12 teams and started selling out within a couple days. Then the next season after that we started selling out in less than a half hour.
Patch: What made you decide to create a WeHo league separate from WDS?
Mason: With my attention being spread amongst WDS, and with WDS expanding so big and nationwide, a lot of my attention was being taken away from the West Hollywood league. It wasn't being a part of the community as much as I wanted it to be. It wasn't able to do a lot of things that it needed to grow and be better.
Patch: How did you get the city on board for an official West Hollywood dodgeball league?
Mason: The city has always been really supportive of me and the league. I met with the city about a health and fitness fair that was Councilman John Duran's pet project at the time, and I met with him about that and started talking to John D'Amico about dodgeball in general and he's a huge fan of dodgeball. He came out to play, he had so much fun and since then, Councilman D'Amico has been really supportive in helping to get us to grow.
I met with the City Council. We were talking about ways we could make dodgeball more community-based, more WeHo-centric. They were totally behind it. They got behind me and said if you start your own business, we are 100 percent behind you.
Patch: What do you have planned for WeHo Dodgeball?
Mason: The new league is going to be everything everyone loved about the old league and then we're adding on a bunch of new benefits. Besides little things within the league that benefit players in the games, like outside referees, our sponsor bar, Gym Bar, is still going to be sponsoring the league and they're going to be giving free pitchers of beer to all losing teams every week. There are more things to drive people out for the social aspect.
We've also got some more user-friendly, updated rules. But the biggest thing I'm very excited about is that we're doing a West Hollywood benefits program. We got all these local businesses that are giving discounts to dodgeball people. Gym Sports Bar, Fiesta Cantina, Apt2B, Kitchen24, some local hairstylists, Dr. Dan the Dentist, a massage parlor, an optometrist and Dr. Gino Pucino the chiropractor. Just to start. Every member is going to get a plastic dodgeball benefits card and they're going to be able to use that all season to get discounts at local businesses.
Patch: Is there a philanthropic aspect to your work with WeHo Dodgeball?
Mason: I want local charities, and charities in general, to be a keystone of our new image and our new mission statement. Our first open gym, we sold out all the spots we had available before 8 p.m., so in maybe 15 minutes we sold out. It was a charity for the AIDS Walk, specifically for NBC Universal's AIDS Walk team. They co-hosted. We had a raffle and gave away prizes. We doubled the price of admission to a donation of $10, because open gym is usually $5, and everybody donated the suggested amount plus more. We raised over $800 for AIDS Walk.
I’ve got future events planned with the Stigma Project. We're a big fan of them. We promote Impulse Group as well, which works with AHF—AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Other charitable organizations have reached out to me to throw events and tournaments.
Patch: How has the community responded to the new league?
Mason: The support from the community is overwhelming. The Facebook page blew up in a matter of hours. My personal Facebook blew up in a matter of minutes when I made the announcement. The city, the businesses, the parks staff and the players. Even other leagues are reaching out to me offering their support and I’m looking forward to partnering with other leagues for events in the future.
I’m going to throw a couple big tournaments. One of our first events is going to be Sin City Shootout, which is this huge LGBT sports festival in Las Vegas on Martin Luther King weekend. They've got over 2,000 athletes that come out to this event every year. They run a whole bunch of stuff. They asked WeHo Dodgeball to run dodgeball for the tournament.
Patch: What else do you hope to achieve through WeHo Dodgeball?
Mason: My main goal is to provide a fun, friendly place where adults can come and be silly, throw dodgeballs at each other and meet people. I don't know where people go to meet people when they're older besides bars, clubs or work. Especially when you're new to L.A.
One of the things over the years that's always been the best thing is having all these people who just move here who know nobody and have no friends yet, they come out to one night of dodgeball and the next thing you know they meet all these amazing people and it's easy. The social aspect is so important and people just find a home here. We've helped people come out of the closet. We've helped create bonds and gay-straight alliances. I want to continue doing that. I want to make this league the best it can possibly be.